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Linebackers in 2010 Packed a Punch

Posted Feb 28, 2011

This is the seventh of eight position reviews of the Jets' 2010 season that are appearing now on newyorkjets.com.

Even though the Jets made a lot of noise at linebacker in 2010, they were led by a quiet assassin in David “Hitman” Harris.

“David is a great calming influence,” said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “The fact that he's calling the defenses, it's almost borderline robotic. I think it's a very calming influence for our guys when all hell is breaking loose out there.”

Voted Curtis Martin Team MVP by his teammates, Harris led the Green & White with 119 tackles (90 solo) and he added three sacks. The 6’2”, 250-pounder, a Michigan product whom the Jets moved up in the 2007 draft to take in the second round (No. 47 overall), has paced the Green & White in stops in three of his first four seasons. He also had 14 QB hurries in regular-season play with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery and tallied a postseason interception of Tom Brady in the Jets’ AFC Divisional Round victory over the Patriots.

The Jets have long-term plans for Harris, so it was no surprise when they designated the inside 'backer as their franchise player. It was the first time New York’s AFC representative used its franchise tag since 2006, when DE John Abraham was given the designation.

Harris paired up with weakside LB Bart Scott to form arguably the best inside pairing in the National Football League. "The Madbacker” joined Harris as the only Jets defenders to start all 16 regular-season games, collecting 94 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

“When Bart makes a big play, that gets everybody going. When Bart makes a big hit — that to me will set the tone more than maybe even a turnover,” Pettine said. “Rex has always said, ‘A big hit will change a game faster than a turnover will.’

“They looked at David more for the leadership as far as the Xs and Os part of it, but as far as the other part, getting everybody going and elevating everybody's level of play, I would say Bart certainly fills that role as the emotional guy.”

The Jets totaled 40 QB sacks in ’10, tying them for eighth-best in the league and also equaling the third-best franchise mark over the past two decades. Veteran OLB Bryan Thomas, who remained stout against the run, led the way with six sacks.

“I laughed last year when someone criticized Bryan for sack production. He was one of the most unsung heroes of our defense last year and has just continued with that so far this year,” Pettine said of the nine-year vet, who has now appeared in 11 postseason contests. “He’s a guy that very rarely gets a minus and that has the ability to make a good play when we need it. He’s been rock solid as far as doing his job.”

The unthinkable happened when former Dolphin Jason Taylor signed with the Jets last April. Rex Ryan wanted a closer and some quality depth at outside linebacker, but Taylor actually ended up starting the first four games after Calvin Pace broke his foot in preseason action. He fit in well with his new ‘mates in the locker room and had solid production on the field, racking up five sacks to raise his career total to 132.5, most among active NFL players.

“Jason’s been a great fit for us,” Pettine said. “A lot of the benefits he's brought to this team go beyond production on the field. I think he’s been great in our locker room. He’s certainly been great in the defensive meeting room as far as a mentor and as far as helping guys prepare to rush the passer.”

After returning from injury, Pace had 5.5 sacks in the regular season and finished sixth on the team with 56 tackles. He got in a good postseason groove, notching three sacks, including a hellacious shot on Brady up in Foxboro, Mass. Despite electing to dial down the blitzes and play more coverage in their latest postseason run, the Jets amassed eight sacks in the second season.

“The nature of our system is we’re not going to be ‘This is what we run.’ Some teams are like that and it works for them,” said Pettine. “We’re constantly going to highlight different areas of our call inventory for a particular opponent.”

The Jets gave Vernon Gholston a different position in his third pro season as VG primarily played a backup role to Shaun Ellis at defensive end. Gholston, selected No. 6 overall in the 2008 NFL Draft after producing 22.5 sacks at Ohio State, never became a pass rushing force at outside linebacker in the 3-4 and is still searching for his first pro sack.

“You’re thinking, hey he’s the sixth overall pick and you’re going to get Lawrence Taylor,” said Rex Ryan. “There has only been one Lawrence Taylor. It just takes time for guys to feel their way.”

“Vernon is someone we are going to take a look at during the offseason,” said GM Mike Tannenbaum. “Him not playing towards the end is something we are going to take a long look at and see if there is a role that makes sense for him. If there is, then we will keep him. If not, then we will move on.”

The Jets have some age at LB when you consider Scott will be 31 and Thomas 32 when the 2011 regular season commences and Pace will celebrate his 31st birthday in October. Taylor is an unrestricted free agent and will be 37 in September.

“We expect him back. Things can always change,” said Mr. T of Taylor. “One thing I would say about Jason was that he did so many good things for us from an intangible leadership standpoint — his effect on other players, Bryan Thomas and Jamaal Westerman in particular. He’s a pro’s pro. We’re lucky to have him.”

Westerman, a 25-year-old who played locally at Rutgers, had eight special teams tackles but hardly saw any time at OLB. On the inside, UFA Lance Laury led the Jets with 28 special teams tackles and 23-year-old Josh Mauga added 15 ST stops.

It would be no surprise to see the Jets add a young linebacker in April’s draft. And while every team wants to find the next great pass rusher, those noisemakers are hard to come by.

Stat Snapshots

In the Jets' last 15 seasons, Harris joined the exclusive 400-tackles-in-four-seasons club (despite missing half of 2008 due to injury) while Scott in 2010 tallied the most tackles for loss or no gain in a season among all Green & White defenders:

 Player Seasons Tackles
 S Victor Green '96-99 503
 LB Marvin Jones '00-03 491
 LB Marvin Jones '99-02 468
 S Victor Green '97-00 443
 LB Jonathan Vilma '04-07 438
 LB David Harris '07-10 422
 S Victor Green '98-01 404
 Player Season TFLNG
 LB Bart Scott 2010 18.5
 LB Mo Lewis 1995 17.0
 LB Eric Barton 2004 16.5
 DE Marvin Washington 1995 16.0
 LB Marvin Jones 1995 15.5
 DT Matt Brock 1995 15.0
 LB Marvin Jones 1996 16.0

Monday, Feb. 14 — Quarterbacks

Wednesday, Feb. 16 — Running Backs

Friday, Feb. 18 — Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Monday — Offensive Linemen

Wednesday — Defensive Backs

Friday — Defensive Linemen

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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